In Parshat Yitro (Shmot 20:8-11), as part of the Ten Commandments, we read about the obligation to rest on Shabbat:
Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work. But the seventh day is Shabbat to Hashem, your God. You must not do any manner of work- you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maid, your animal, and the foreigner within your gates. For in six days God made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.
Rashi comments that when Shabbat arrives, you should feel as if all your work has been completed, so that you will not have to think about work on Shabbat.
If a person manages their time properly, then this model works. This has been proven by Shabbat observant Jews from the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments until today.
However, what happens in a situation when our time is not our own? When we can’t simply pack up and set our work aside?
In the war that we are currently fighting in Israel, the soldiers are fighting for the existence of the State of Israel. This war is critical in order to keep Jews safe and to save lives. The soldiers don’t have the luxury of finishing their work on Friday and resuming Saturday night the way that the rest of us can. They are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Rabbinate of the IDF provides instructions for the soldiers of how to observe Shabbat during the war. Below, is a taste of some of the issues that the soldiers face on Shabbat and how they are instructed to handle them under the guidance of an army rabbi.
If the soldiers are in active duty fighting the enemy on Shabbat, they should do everything that they would normally do on a regular day.
Soldiers who are fighting in dangerous areas such as in Gaza or on the border of Lebanon should not risk their lives by trying to set up an Eruv in order to be able to carry on Shabbat as it could take their attention away from the fighting. In these situations, they can carry as they would on a weekday.
If the soldiers are gathered and getting ready to fight, for example, on the border of Gaza, but not in Gaza, if it is not dangerous for them to set up an Eruv, then they should do so. If they were not able to set up an Eruv due to security reasons, they can still carry their guns and whatever other supplies that they need in order to fight. They can add their Siddur (prayer book) or Chumash (Bible) to their bag of necessary supplies so that they can be carried as well.
If their unit is about to start fighting, then the soldiers can prepare for war on Shabbat by doing practice exercises and drills. However, if they aren’t going to be fighting imminently, then they should not practice on Shabbat.
Pitching tents, setting up generators and heaters as well as food preparation should all be taken care of before Shabbat, if possible.
The soldiers should only light Shabbat and Havdala candles where it is safe to do so. If it is dangerous to light a fire, they can say the blessings on a flashlight.
Every soldier, whether on duty or not, must have their phone with them at all times and must answer all incoming calls.
These guidelines make it clear that the soldiers can’t follow the ideal of finishing everything before sundown on Friday, as they must be on high alert over Shabbat. However, at the times that the soldiers are out of harm’s way, they can try to achieve a Shabbat atmosphere as much as possible.
May all of our soldiers be safe and may they complete their missions so that they can return to their families and celebrate Shabbat as a true day of rest.